Q: The school my children attend has a yearly gala with an auction. We always contribute generously to the school. Some of the parents are potential customers. Is it possible to raise money for the school and awareness about my expertise by donating my professional service as an auction item?
A: Great question.
First, some context. Nonprofits raise auction money by having a buyer in the room that intends to invest in the auctioned item anyway, such as a safari. Imagine, in a flight of fancy, that you have several potential customers in the room. They get into a bidding war for your package. When bidding reaches $20,000, the auctioneer proclaims that you’ve agreed, for the cause, instead of one item to donate three. Everyone cheers. You’re a hero. The school gains $60,000. Richard Branson did something like this for Resource Assistance for Youth, Inc., a group that serves homeless youth in Winnipeg.
Generally, however, professional services make for lackluster auction items, unless people already keen to gain your service attend the auction. Worse, you might even hurt your brand. Imagine if your package inspires no or few bids.
To help the school and get known, you might, also:
Or, you might:
This option avoids the perception of your being negatively opportunistic among peers, (even though research shows that 90 percent of consumers believe that cause marketing is about business benefits). It also limits the school’s gains. However, many find this approach a comfortable solution.
Do you have a question about charitable giving that provides business returns? Send them to email@example.com.
Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.
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